I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say that the MLB season is truly a grind for the analytically oriented baseball enthusiast. Oh sure, lay fans might see us and say stuff like “Get a life, nerd” or “Ghostly pallor much?” or “Put on pants!”, but it’s only because they don’t understand how much hustle and grit and whatever-all-else-David-Eckstein-has it takes to make it through a season at the top of one’s sabermetric game.
Every single day from basically the middle of February (when pitchers and catchers report) till the end of the World Series, it’s “prep for this fantasy draft” or “read that blog post” or “look up all these other guys’ WARs.” For real, it can be exhausting.
Which is why, when the offseason comes around, even the most sticktoitive of us are thankful for the rest. And sure, some downtime is good: catch up on the movie films, eat some pie (why not, it tastes so good!), visit all our babies’ mamas — you know, the regular stuff. That said, it’s also imperative that we don’t begin to rest on our laurels (wherever those are located). No, some form of offseason training regimen is absolutely necessary, especially as the bar for baseballing nerdom gets set higher and higher.
Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m not a licensed sabermetric trainer or anything like that (although I maybe accidentally performed CPR on a sleeping person once, if that counts). But I can introduce you to one exercise that helps me stay sharp as tacks. And here’s the best part about it: you can do it while drinking beer.
It’s called the Player Profile Exercise (PPE), and it’s the picture of simplicity. All you do is:
1. Pick up a a recent offseason annual (i.e. Baseball Prospectus, Hardball Times Season Preview, etc.).
2. Read aloud from any single player profile, being careful to omit player or team names that might give away the identity of this particular player.
3. Challenge your friends to guess whose profile you’re reading. (Oh yeah, I forgot, it’s for two or more people.)
4. Pass the book off and repeat.
Let’s try a couple, how about. (Note: These are from the 2008 edition of BP, so set your mental gauges appropriately.)
All of the talk about how BLANK is going to become a better hitter is both misguided and unnecessary. BLANK’s 35 home runs in 2006 already seem like a bit of an outlier, and his career batting average in the minors was .261, but as he’s likely to hit 25-plus homers a year while drawing 100 walks, can play all three outfield positions and first base, and plays the game as hard as anyone in baseball, BLANK has a lot of value even when he hits .250 to .260. He’s not going to get much better, but he doesn’t need to.
Did you guess Eddie Stanky? I hope not, because if you did, you (a) are wrong and (b) probably have some kind of weird psychological disorder that only Oliver Sacks can cure. The actual answer is at the end of this post.
How about this one?
Last year we said that BLANK could succeed as a starter if only the BLANKs would give him the opportunity. It still took an injury to BLANK for BLANK to get that chance, but there’s no looking back now. He’s basically Chien-Ming Wang with better stuff, and his strikeout rate grew throughout the season. If he turns out to be a better pitcher than BLANK for the remainder of the decade, we won’t be shocked.
I can’t tell if that’s harder or easier than the first. I do know that the Wang comp is incredibly helpful. (Semi-related challenge: say “Wang comp” five times fast. Go!) Once again, the answer for this one’s below.
As far as muscle groups go, the PPE works a number of them. In the absence of contextual signifiers like team names or teammates‘ names, the PPE forces one to pay close attention to other telling details — whether they be comparables (as in the second case), playing time or pitcher usage issues (also as in the second case), hitting approach (as with the first one), or defensive positioning (also in the first). Those are all categories of which a first rate baseball nerd should have intimate knowledge.
Answer One: Nick Swisher
Answer Two: Fausto Carmona (and, amazingly, that last “BLANK” is CC Sabathia)